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A visit to the railway yard in Uxbridge and a bag of coal

January 30, 2016

On October 16, 1989, I visited the CNR yard at Uxbridge, Ontario. This was more than 20 years before writing and publishing Steam Memories of Lindsay. I was a crazy guy in my twenties, taking theatre classes in Toronto and dreading the world of civil engineering (I would return to that only weeks after the freedom enjoyed on this autumn afternoon). I checked in with the local coal yard and found that they still sold anthracite. So, I bought a 100 lb. bag for my dad.

Did he have a coal furnace in the family home, at Barrie? No. Did he have a fireplace capable of burning coal? No. Had he lived through the era of heating houses by coal, and sensibly decided that oil was the better way to go? Yes. Did he still get the bag of coal? Yes, he did.

I remember bounding up the front steps of the house in Barrie. "Dad, I got you a present."

"What is it, son?"

"A 100 lb. bag of Famous Reading Anthracite coal."

"You're kidding."

"No, I'm not. Come out to the car."

Muttering "You didn't" all the way to my Mazda GLC in the driveway, Dad soon enough saw that I had indeed bought a bag of anthracite. The two of us rested our feet on the bumper and hoisted it out of the trunk. Black dust all over our hands, we trundled it out behind the back shed. And there it sat for years.

Until I took the coal to my new father-in-law. He gamely burned it in his home fireplace. The heat almost melted his grates.

Anyhow, back to Uxbridge, Ontario. Some 35 years before my visit in 1989, here is a portrayal of the railway steam era there. From Steam Memories of Lindsay:

Passenger train 92 approaches the outskirts of Uxbridge at 10:35 a.m. Cautiously, the locomotive advances over Brock Street, past the grain buildings and coal yards clustered along service tracks on both sides. In this farming community, nothing moves quickly as a rule, save perhaps the nightly manifest freight trains, one of which collided with a car at the Main Street crossing, resulting in the loss of one life, while highballing through at 35 m.p.h. just over a year ago. Mill workers and the general population alike pause with automobiles on the streets for the arrival of the train. A prudent “dry” town, Uxbridge has rebounded since the collapse of a major furniture industry in 1930. Sounds of chopping mill machinery are heard while the train rests at the station platform.

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